Web and Print Legal guidelines are the same

The law as it applies to scholastic news Web sites comes down to one guideline: The courts make no distinction between print publications and their online counterparts.

So many shareholders will tell you the law is different, that somehow the rules are altered for Web publications. Those shareholders – administrators, community members, etc. – will be determined to limit your staff’s ability to publish the same content it publishes in its print version citing some vague reference to “laws” that prohibit such publication. But the Supreme Court has chosen to keep online media along the same track as print media, saying the two more closely resemble each other. As such, press those shareholders on the specific laws that limit Web media and they can’t.

Because those laws don’t exist.

That’s not to say that laws don’t exist at all. On the contrary, there are several laws that regulate a student publication’s ability to cover the news. But those laws are the same as those that restrict the print version. Supreme Court decisions like Tinker v. Des Moines, Bethel v. Fraser, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier and, just recently, Morse v. Frederick have defined the role and the limitations of scholastic publications. And many of those limitations hinge on whether your publication is considered a public forum or school-sponsored.

In other words, if, when you publish to the Web, you follow the same rules you’ve always followed in terms of your publication’s coverage, then you should be on solid legal ground regardless of what others claim.

Media Now Summer Journalism Workshops Drake University and Webster University